Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - "Fear not" is what Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, told Christians in preparation for the upcoming Easter. Iraq's Christians are victims of violence and persecution. In less than a decade, this has reduced the community by half. Still, they are not alone for the entire nation is being torn apart by an unending confessional, political and tribal war.
In a world of big and small sufferings, the archbishop calls for the rediscovery of the Good News to bear witness to the faith without concerns and fears. Bishops and priests are called to perform this task and young people can look up and learn from them.
Here are the reflections Mgr Louis Sako sent to AsiaNews.
Iraq is a country that has been suffering from violence for many years. We Christians are part of a Church that suffers intensely. Over time, Lent has become a time to reflect deeply about our faith, a time not to shut ourselves off from the world, and this despite the critical situation. It is a time to open up to a deep dimension that draws hope for those, especially the younger ones, who face difficulties, and those who lead a life of precariousness and fear. This hope is found in the Lord's words, "Fear not!" This is what the Good News urges us to do, even if we are persecuted in so many ways and languish on the sidelines, something that those who lead a tranquil life or live in luxury cannot fully grasp.
The Good News is meant especially for the very poor, for those who lead an uncertain existence or are not fully free. We recited all of our prayers and performed the Via Crucis in this spirit. We shared what we had with the needy and many young people fasted.
There were many acts of solidarity, among them that of a young man who handed us US$ 2,000 "to help families celebrate Easter". A young woman gave me US$ 1,000 for the disabled, "not only Christians but also Muslims . . . for the whole community." A group of Lebanese priests and nuns are also planning to visit us to celebrate Holy Week. All these acts show solidarity in deeds, not just words.
In Kirkuk, our small presence takes on a deeper meaning for our Muslim brothers. Our witness, in deeds and words, is alive and present. Recently, I met a politician who told me: "Only with you Christians can Iraq go forward and achieve progress."
An Arab tribal leader has asked me to act as a mediator in order to promote dialogue among Kirkuk's various ethnic and political groups, with the Chaldean cathedral as the venue where to meet. "We only trust you," political and tribal leaders say. What more do we need to do to show how important our presence is . . . ?
At a conference on the Arab spring, a young Christian woman from Syria spoke. Her name is Marcelle. "What have you bishops done for the good of the people," she asked me. "Your caution does not help; it does not change the situation. What have you done with the 'Spring of Christ' in which the Good News was announced? We young people are doing more," Marcelle said.
She then began singing in front of us and with us and all the participants, Muslims too. It was beautiful sign to behold, all of us united, reciting a hymn inspired by a psalm. I think perhaps we have lost some of the enthusiasm and radical quality of the Gospel.
Therefore, on this Easter I shall try to help the faithful not to fear, help them to proclaim their 'Yes' to God. I call on everyone to be close to our brothers in thought and prayer, and celebrate the communion, charity, life and love for our fellow man so that violence and fanaticism may stop and everyone live in peace and joy.
"Fear not," I shall tell the faithful during Mass on Easter night.
* Archbishop of Kirkuk